Drug companies pay doctors

The state must require doctors to disclose specifics on payments from drug companies.

Between 2002 and 2004, over $31 million was paid to Minnesota doctors by pharmaceutical companies, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen. Some of this money financed research, while other contributions were for speaking fees, travel expenses and consulting. But doctors are not required to tell patients about these potentially lucrative relationships.

It’s easy to see the problem here. If the pharmaceutical industry influences the kinds of drugs doctors prescribe to patients, we can’t be sure that people will be prescribed and paying for the most appropriate medications.

Research shows that doctors with close ties to drug companies prescribe more expensive, newer drugs, and former sales representatives have said that hiring doctors for speaking engagements has boosted their sales.

One former industry saleswoman quoted in The New York Times even stated, “I hate to say it out loud, but it all comes down to ways to manipulate the doctors.”

Minnesota is in a better position than most states – in 1993 it became the very first to require any disclosure, and is currently the only state other than Vermont that requires the information to be available to the public. But according to a Minnesota Public Radio report, massive amounts of information goes unreported, and what is reported is not organized in a way that is easy for the public to access.

The state needs to improve this system so that the specific nature of contributions from drug companies to doctors is more available to patients. While it is not illegal for doctors to accept money for their speaking or consulting services, it might be inappropriate. We are not trying to impugn the ethics of doctors, but every profession needs oversight to ensure honesty. If a conflict of interest exists, the public deserves to know about it, and strengthening the transparency of these laws can only help. The importance of trust between doctors and their patients cannot be overstated, and both parties should welcome reforms that could improve that trust.